Starbucks and Subway are two of the largest fast food chains worldwide. The two companies took markedly different approaches to adding non-food benefits. One case in point is providing free Wi-Fi to customers. Starbucks offered WiFi since 2010, while Subway was slow to adopt it. This factor appears to have significantly impacted both performance and reputation of the two chains.
Convenience of Free Wi-Fi
Free Wi-Fi provides conveniences like the ability to work or socialize while dining for those who don’t have unlimited internet. Studies confirm it’s a top priority for many restaurant-goers, who tend to stay longer – and they spend more when it’s available.
Starbucks recognized this early on and created a loyal customer base that sees its stores as a “third place” beyond home and work. Meanwhile, Subway struggled to keep pace with changing consumer preferences. In 2018, Starbucks surpassed Subway as the second largest fast food chain, with $26.5 billion in sales versus Subway’s $24.1 billion.
Subway Franchise Model
Subway’s fragmented franchise model is likely one reason it hasn’t implemented chain-wide free Wi-Fi. Individual owners decide whether to offer it, leading to inconsistent availability. This makes it hard for customers to know what to expect at Subway. The perceived health positioning of Subway’s brand also may not align with encouraging customers to linger.
However, in today’s market, consumers expect more than just food from fast casual chains – they want an experience. Chains like Starbucks understand this; Subway does not.
By failing to provide amenities like free Wi-Fi, Subway struggles to attract and retain customers in a competitive landscape.
Offering free Wi-Fi could help Subway regain an edge and boost sales. It would show Subway cares about the customer experience and could allow expanded digital offerings like online ordering and loyalty programs.
Free Wi-Fi may not fit Subway’s “Eat Fresh“ slogan, but freshness alone may no longer be enough.
Faux Pas Moments
Starbucks is not perfect, though. They had their own faux pas moments, dabbling with wokeness.
Subway could rework its marketing to match with modern customer demands and come up with its own differentiating angles. This could help it to avoid further sales declines. They could gather useful data by internally surveying all their sites. As well as comparing those with and without free Wi-Fi they would compare what happened over time after sites added internet access.
Randy Foreman used AI to research this topic and to create the featured image. As with every story we publish, this story was edited during our editorial process by a living, breathing editor.